Surviving Abuse Without My Mother

Dana Rutherford (BTSADV’s Volunteers Director) and her mother, Pam, in 2002

There is nothing quite like a mother’s love.

It’s comforting and nurturing. A simple embrace can make all the cares of the world disappear even for just a moment. It’s the very heartbeat that we hear before we ever enter this life, and it’s the first form of love that we feel from another human being.

What happens, however, when that love is ripped from us too soon? Many of us are left to deal with the broken pieces that the absence of a mother leaves in our hearts. We long for that nurturing, comfort, and embrace, but it is not there, whether by death or choice.

I was 18 years old when my mother passed away. I was just entering adulthood, and I truly needed her more than ever. She had unfortunately become addicted to prescription drugs in a day and age where they were handed out with little said about their habit-forming properties. My childhood was very unstable because of it. My father was also addicted, so it led to a very unhealthy situation. My mother went to the hospital one day with Tylenol poisoning and died 6 days later at 44 years old. My father would pass away as well just 3 weeks after her at 53 years old.

Right before they passed away, I married a boy I met at church youth camp. We were both young, 18 and 19 years old, and we both came from toxic homes. I wanted someone to love me, and he was eager to fill that role. I now can see where it was a perfect storm that would lead to almost 15 years of marriage, 3 children, and abuse in every way.

Not having a mother (or father) while enduring abuse was devastating. I often wonder if she would have been the first phone call on those days that I needed encouragement. Would I have hidden it from her out of shame, or would I have looked to her for wisdom and guidance? Would I have gotten out sooner if she was there to help pick up the pieces, or would it have broken my heart to utter the words that a man was hurting her little girl? No matter how the events would have occurred, ultimately, I wish that she was here through it all because her absence was crushing.

Leaving the abuse without her support proved to be even more difficult. Logistically, I had nowhere to go, but emotionally, I needed her more than ever. Statistically, the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is right after they escape, and I was terrified. I had to file divorce papers and a restraining order all by myself. The shelters were full, so my 3 children and I bounced around homeless for almost 4 months. I felt like I was drowning, and I worried that my children were going to feel the effects of this. Not only did I not have my mom, but I felt like I was failing at being a mother myself.

Survivors of domestic violence struggle with multiple issues including post-traumatic stress, insecurity, hypervigilance, a lack of resources, etc. You throw that in with grieving, and it can be very triggering especially around holidays such as Mother’s Day. Whether it’s the one who lost their mother, the one who has no relationship with their mother, the single mom, the one whose mother is the abuser, the one who longs to be a mother but isn’t, the mother who lost their child, etc., this event can be painful with constant reminders of it through advertisements, greeting cards, and social media posts. Even though I am happy for them, it can sting to watch my friends shower their moms with love on that day. I am blessed to be a mother, so I can say that my children make me feel very special on Mother’s Day, but there are many years that it has been a hard day for me, and that is okay to admit.

If you struggle on Mother’s Day, or any day of the year because of grief, know that it’s normal, and you are not alone. If you are walking through healing from abuse or any kind of trauma without your mother’s support, it will not be easy, but you can honor your mother in the best way possible by loving and caring for yourself. I know for a fact that my mom would be so proud of me for leaving abuse, getting on my feet, and helping other survivors do the same. I know that she would be my biggest cheerleader every step of the way, and I carry her spirit with me in my heart. She loved me dearly, and I know she would never want me to live a life full of abuse.

Mom, I miss you. I wish that I could tell you how much you mean to me, but for now, I will live a life that makes you proud. Happy Mother’s Day, not just to you, but to all those who may be grieving on this day.

The History of Child Abuse Prevention and How to Recognize the Signs

It’s been 39 years since President Ronald Reagan formally established April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is a time where it is absolutely essential to understand and recognize what not only constitutes as child abuse but precisely how to respond to the signs. In working to both raise awareness and eradicate any and all stigmas, perhaps there will exist a day where all children have accessibility to a safe and healthy adolescence.

History of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

Enacted on January 31, 1974 by then-President Nixon, CAPTA was a direct legislative

Enacted on January 31, 1974, by then-President Nixon, CAPTA was a direct legislative address of child abuse and neglect within the United States. This acted as a federal attempt to provide victim care, child services and formulate organizations for those who are survivors. The Act defines child abuse and neglect, per the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm[1].” Alongside the reauthorization of the act by President Barack Obama, as is pictured below, there additionally included the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA).


  “President Barack Obama signs S. 3817, the “CAPTA Reauthorization Act of  2010,” in the Oval Office” [2]

Four Major Types of Child Abuse

Though child abuse is certainly an opened-ended and layered topic, it is often differentiated into four major categories, those being neglect, physical, sexual, and emotional/psychological abuse. Statistics show that approximately one in four children experience abuse or neglect within their youth, of these cases, 18% are abused physically, 78% are neglected and 9% are abused sexually[3]. Any injury that stems from physical aggression constitutes physical abuse, such as beating, slapping, pushing, or burning. It is also important to note that harsh physical punishment can very easily be considered abuse. Sexual abuse is definitively any and all sexual acts enacted by an adult onto a child, including but not restricted to fondling, commercial exploitation, and violations of bodily privacy. Emotional child abuse, also knowns as verbal, mental or psychological abuse is any non-physical mistreatment that could potentially have a negative mental impact on a child. This can come from parents, caregivers, siblings, or even bullying peers. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse[4], and can include a failure to provide appropriate physical care, educational care, and emotional support. 

Recognizing the Signs

One of the essential ways by which children can be spared of abuse and neglect is through recognizing the signs and symptoms. It is imperative that both individuals who work in childcare and those who do not are educated on how to pay direct attention to vulnerable adolescents.


Some of the most common signs of neglect may not always be a physical bruise or inexplicable injury, though those are certainly symptoms that are important to look out for. Nevertheless, a child who is being abused may begin to withdraw from friends, their studies, and their usual activities. They may become angry, anxious, depressed, or present rebellious behaviors that are otherwise out of character for them. 

In fact, according to ChildSafe, a Texas based non-profit organization dedicated to abused and neglected children, there are “10 Signs of Child Abuse.” The signs are as follows: changes in behavior, physical or emotional acts of regression, a fear of going home, a change in eating habits, changes in sleeping, changes in school performance and attendance, lack of personal care, risk-taking behaviors, and inappropriate sexual behaviors[6].


One of the most beneficial ways to raise awareness surrounding child abuse is through proper education and exposure to the dark realities that some children experience. By keeping society privy to the real cases, the irrefutable statistics, we can better aid those who have faced such inexplicable horrors. Some of the most disheartening studies show that a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds in the US and more than 3 million adolescents experience at least one situation of abuse annually[7].



Where to go Next?

Moving forward, it is imperative that society collectively work toward eradicating situations of abuse and neglect. Additionally, discourse surrounding the long-term effects of abuse must, too, be taken very seriously. Studies show that survivors of abuse can experience lifelong consequences, and not just physically. By the time some reach adulthood, some may experience cognitive delays, speech and language problems, depressions and anxieties, and extreme difficulties within relationships. Plus, there is an irrefutable and strong link between trauma and substance abuse, an entirely different societal battle. Overall, though there is certainly no erasing the pain and abuse people experience in their youth, society, at the very least, can work to prevent future trauma and provide adequate resources.

[1] https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/whatiscan.pdf


[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470337/


[5] https://news.sky.com/story/staggering-rise-in-child-abuse-images-detected-10252012

[6] https://www.lifestoriesweld.org/10-signs-of-child-abuse/

[7] http://www.cactn.org/child-abuse-information/statistics#:~:text=A%20child%20is%20abused%20or,abused%20before%20their%2018th%20birthday.

[8] https://www.alaskachildrenstrust.org/issue

A Lifelong Tragedy: Child Abuse

Dear Journal,

I want to discuss a sensitive topic with you that is dear to my heart since you are my trustworthy confidant. To be exact, I would like to discuss my experiences with child abuse and how it has continued to negatively affect me throughout my adult life. Since I was 11 years old, I have endured physical, mental, and psychological abuse. The abuse could have started before age 11, but I think I blocked it out. My therapist is the only person I have openly discussed, in detail, my past childhood experiences with abuse. Recently, I have been struggling with some invading thoughts going on in my mind that I need to vent to you about. You are the nonjudgmental ears I am seeking. Hopefully, you have some time on your hands because I’m about to emotionally dump everything inside of me onto you.

As a child growing up in an abusive environment, I grew up in a permanent fight-or-flight state of mind. Normalcy was not found in the quiet and safe moments throughout my day. It was found within then moments that led me to fight to defend myself or flight to protect myself. I was constantly on the edge of my seat anticipating the next traumatic situation. It didn’t matter if it was a physical, emotional, or psychological violation. I constantly felt unsafe. Even rest was fragile. I was afraid all of the time. I was afraid of what had happened and what could happen next. This is why I struggle with anxiety to extreme degrees and why I create problems when things are normal in my life. When life is normal I feel that something is wrong with my life because it feels boring and unsettling. Normalcy is uncomfortable because I am a creature of habit and comfortability; I am comfortable and familiar with extremes. I am used to living in extremes. I have even destroyed healthy, thriving relationships because it was normal and quiet. I confused normality as a red flag because I grew up with the belief that normal, healthy relationships are roller coasters full of ups and downs with no safety or security. I have spent years in therapy understanding this about myself in order to heal. Only now am I learning through meditation practices to embrace and appreciate the quiet moments in life. I now understand that living in fight or flight is a sign of trauma from an abusive relationship.

Speaking of toxic relationships, let me tell you about how child abuse set me up to indefinitely attract and create toxic romantic and casual relationships. To be honest, until I recently embarked on a journey to heal and cultivate self-love within me, I had no healthy idea what love was or looked like. My earliest experiences with love were unhealthy and toxic due to a narcissistic mother and drug-addicted father. Without going into detail about them (that would be a month-long conversation), I want to emphasize when your first experiences with love are abusive, you have no healthy framework to form and define love as an adult.  As a child, my boundaries and I were never respected. I grew up apologizing for everything while being silenced when I tried to speak up and being beaten for standing up for myself or against cruelty. I grew up only knowing conditional love: I was loved under a set of conditions I had to constantly fulfill to earn that love. As an adult, I attracted people in friendships and romantic situations that were also addicts or narcissistic. My boundaries were never respected in my adult relationships. My needs were never met as I attracted people who, once again, used me to meet their needs full time. My needs were completely ignored as if they did not exist nor matter.

It was only until I began therapy years ago did I begin to understand the root cause as to why I was surrounded by so many toxic people. I finally understood that I was part of the problem. I was attracting the only kind of people I ever knew to be normal or healthy because I was drawn to what was familiar. I confused what was comfortable with what was healthy, normal, and ‘right’. I was attracting the same love I experienced as a child but with different people. If I had grown up in a healthy household with genuine, unconditional love, I would have known who to attract and how to form healthy relationships with them. I believe if I had grown up in a healthy household full of love, I would be surrounded by love today instead of being lonely. I plan to remain alone until I trust myself enough to form and make new, healthy relationships in the future.

Another aspect of child abuse is the broken self-esteem most children grow up to develop as adults. I don’t even think I had any self-esteem or self-love. In fact, I don’t think I genuinely had any positive feelings towards myself. Maybe it was because I was never allowed to think of anyone else but my abusers’ needs. Maybe it was because my abusers indirectly conditioned me to believe that I wasn’t valuable, lovable, or enough. I never thought I alone was ever enough for anyone. I believed I had to constantly prove my worth by saying yes to everything even if I wanted to scream, “NO!”. I thought I was supposed to help others, even if it was at my expense. I genuinely believed that my opinion did not matter and I was supposed to remain agreeable. I thought if I did anything else, I would be deemed worthless and unloveable. Having a lack of self-respect and self-esteem impacted my ability to pursue my goals, grow into the woman I want to be instead of what I think I should be, and form/maintain healthy relationships.

As a 32-year-old adult, I am just now learning and working on rebuilding my confidence and self-respect. I practice this within my relationships by setting boundaries and protecting them at all costs. I also practice self-care routines multiple times a week to remind myself I am worth investing in, loving, and showing up for. Before I begin a new relationship with anyone, I first want to become full of love and respect within myself. My relationship with myself is my priority. I am now learning things I should have learned as a child but was deprived of due to abuse. Luckily, everything I need for a healthy future with myself and others begins with me.

As a person who struggles with PTSD and ADHD, I can testify firsthand that child abuse most definitely leads to future mental and psychological disorders. As a consequence of suffering from these disorders, I believe it also opened up a door for addiction. I view child abuse as a gateway to various addictions. In fact, I am now nearly 9 years sober. In 2014 I struggled with Oxycodone, Heroin, and Adderall addiction. I began taking the pain medication to numb the pain in my physical body, heart, and mind that built up after years of abuse. The pain killers made living with years of trauma much easier, much more bearable. Emotional stress and duress can manifest in severe physical pain in the body. Unfortunately, I did not understand then that numbing the bad feelings and pain would numb the good feelings too. I turned to Adderall because I was a pre-med student in the middle of an abusive home life. I was trying to concentrate and meet the demands of my medical program. I was able to stay awake and focus. However, the sideeffects of the drug lead to extreme mania, paranoia, and delusional thoughts. This is scary for someone struggling with PTSD.

Child abuse most definitely has a negative snowball effect into their teenage and adult years. When the child abuse stopped, the consequences kept showing up throughout my life and they continue to show up. This is why I remain working through these issues with my therapist, support group, and various self-help programs. The substance addictions are no longer a problem for me. However I will always live with PTSD and ADHD. It honestly feels like a permanent stain on my mind.

I could go on forever about this topic. I could spend years explicitly explaining to others the severe, lifelong consequences of child abuse. However, I think that for today, I have gotten the point across loud and clear. I will spend the rest of my life recovering from child abuse. It will never leave me. My only hope is that I can help others heal and bring awareness to the public about the importance of protecting children at all costs. Children are the future, we must protect them to ensure we leave this world a better place.

Yours truly,
Amanda Marianna

Man’s Best Friend And So Much More

Dear Journal,

I have to tell you that I honestly do not know how I would have gotten through all this abuse and hardship without my dogs. In fact, I’m not even sure I would have survived what I have without them. Abuse is a dark lonely hole to live in. Luckily, my dogs have always been a source of light, love, and comfort throughout everything. I feel very strongly about this and this is why I’m writing a thank you entry dedicated to my dogs. Without them, I’d be somewhere too terrified to imagine. Without them, I don’t think I would have healed as willingly, quickly, or as easily.

When I look back to the dark times of my abuse, I am mentally overloaded with past memories and images of violence, cruelty, loneliness, depression, etc. It’s just one big blur of total darkness fueled by all things the opposite of love and kindness. Luckily though, I quickly remember my dogs during those times and am immediately filled with gratitude. When you are in the middle of an abusive situation, nothing with that person is safe or consistent besides their abuse. However, dogs during abuse become a consistent source of comfort, love, and support. I often reflect on how I could always count on my dogs for a crying shoulder to lean on. I could always count on them to listen to me with non-judgmental ears! I could go always hug them and feel loved and safe. Having a consistent source of safety and love saved me. I believe they held my hand, figuratively speaking, as I began to heal and confront my traumas. They were so much more than an emotional support animal for my PTSD; they were everything and so much more. I won’t even try to put it into words because I know I could never begin to do justice for the value they’ve had on my survival and healing.

Besides my dogs being a constant source of safety and comfort, they were also a constant source of unconditional love. While living with my abuser, I was isolated from my friends and family. I was even bullied into quitting my job. I literally had no love in my life except for the love I received from my dogs and the love I gave to my dogs. I was isolated. I did not know love nor receive it from another human for years. I did not even give it to myself amid my abuse. But thank god, there was never a moment or day that I did not get love from my dogs. If it were not for them, I believe I would have slipped into a much darker and scarier place where all love would have been obsolete from my life. It was a cold dark place I was living in except for the warmth of my dogs. Love gives us the strength to hold on in darkness. The love I received from my dogs empowered me and provided me with a reason to keep fighting. I never forgot that love does exist because of them. I held on long enough to find it within myself again so I could muster up the straight to escape to safety and heal.

Looking back, my dogs were a big part of my survival and healing journey because they gave me purpose when I was too broken to give one to myself. There were days I did not want to get out of bed or open my eyes. I wanted to give up in terms of my own survival. However, because of my dogs, I got up every day and I showed up for them. I got up to take them to the bathroom, I got up to feed them, and I got up to simply receive love and give them the love they so much deserved. I wonder if I would have just drifted away into the darkness of my depression and despair if it had not been for them. I wonder how different my life would have turned out had I not had my dogs to keep fighting for. I could not muster the strength to keep going for myself. However, I always found the strength to keep going for them. I am so thankful for them. They gave me purpose as if they knew my life depended on them to hang on.

Living in an abusive situation was not only a time in my life when I was deprived of love, safety, and comfort. I was also deprived of joy, happiness, and laughter. If it had not been for my dogs, I would have had no one to play with, cuddle, or share moments of laughter and joy in between all the darkness. I depended on my dogs during and after my abusive relationship. I saw my dogs as a dependable and consistent source of unconditional love, safety, emotional support, purpose, laughter, joy, etc. I owe my dogs everything, including my life. I could never thank them enough so I’ll just keep giving them their favorite treats and long walks in the sun because making them happy will always bring me happiness.

Yours truly,
Amanda Marianna

That Innocent Love…

As kids, we all have had aspirations of amassing an animal of our own to take care of or just to feel something different to love us back in a different way.
Because it’s just something about “that innocent love”.

Most importantly being that young you were oblivious to the possibility of ever experiencing abuse of any aspect from the substantial person in your life or that animal abuse was real as well.
But it was always something pondering in you about “that innocent love”.

But now that we have survived, we now know that acrimonious behavior at home influences one’s thinking psychologically, sentiments, and ways of behaving that can also essentially affect one’s security. Expanded tension, PTSD, and wretchedness side effects are usually seen among survivors that suffered abusive behavior at home. They are also noticed in the animals that were in the home witnessing the abuse of their owner or even suffered secondhand abuse from their previous owners before being retrieved by a loving family through a support agency.
So what it is about “that innocent love”?

It’s the security we feel when holding them. It’s the reassurance we get knowing we are not alone. It is verified that most women who have encountered some type of abusive behavior at home found comfort in caring for their pets as a coping mechanism to get through their painful reality. They found the strength to stand against that same abusive behavior while also defending their loving animals from the mistreatment of that aggressive significant other as well.
That innocent love is a different kind of love!

With almost 70% of US families possessing somewhere around one pet, a large number of victims have “that innocent love” in the home instead of untrustworthy relatives or friends. They have grown to know and love them as small companions that bring them harmony, solace, and love – even in the most problematic times of their life.
It’s just something about that innocent love.

Analysis shows that cruelness toward pets can furthermore relate to maltreatment toward people and is additionally an instrument of aggressive behavior at home victimizers will take steps to hurt or hurt an animal as a type of force and control over the victim.
It’s something about the connection link between domestic violence abuse to animal abuse when they are combined in the same home that makes “that innocent love” worth saving and treasuring!

A study has shown an unmistakable connection between domestic violence abuse, child abuse, and animal abuse. These cases have exhibited that the people who have abused their now survivors, used animals to control their victims out of anger at their frantic behavior moments.
So when you have these innocent companions it brings about “breaking the silence against domestic violence” worth it to speak up and protect “THAT INNOCENT LOVE”!

RESOURCE: *** From the heart of a survivor, that as a young soldier that wished she had an “innocent love” for her and her 3month old. ***

History of Sexual Assault Awareness: Nearly A Century in the Making


This April marks the 21st anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time specifically dedicated to spreading knowledge and awareness regarding the existence of sexual violence and the efforts to prevent it.

The Birth of the Movement

Though the early and mid-twentieth century may feel like ancient history to today’s youth, in the grand scale of human history, social activism remains a relatively new concept. The fight against women’s violence dates back to the 40s and 50s, as social change was championed particularly by Women of Color. In fact, Rosa Parks, who is perhaps best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was also an advocate for sexual violence survivors justice and worked directly with NAACP on rape cases[1].

Rosa Parks speaking at the Selma March, 1965 (Stephen Somerstein, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, New-York Historical Society)

There is an irrefutable history of black women being targeted and assaulted by white men. One particular case that was reflective of not only Park’s efforts but the way by which the public typically responded to assault victims of color is the case of Recy Taylor. In September 1944, Taylor was walking home from church when a car carrying several young white men approached and began accusing her of attacking a young white boy a few towns over. These men forced her into the vehicle and committed unspeakable acts, then threatened her life if she reported this to the police. Recy Taylor chose not to keep quiet. She reported the crime immediately and eventually word reached NAACP investigator, Rosa Parks. The local police harassed Parks upon her arrival, circling Taylor’s home while Parks was inside, and eventually demanding she leave since they didn’t want any “troublemakers” in town. Funny who the troublemaker in this case was in the eyes of the police.[2]

After her return to Montgomery, Rosa Parks began the Committee for Equal Justice and in a month’s time, Taylor’s story would make headlines. Justice was never brought to Recy Taylor, outside of a 2011 apology from the Alabama legislature, one Parks, who died in 2005 would never see. The bravery and resilience of women such as Taylor has left a powerful legacy–one that works to empower black sexual assault survivors in the wake of such a racially motivated abuse of power, an obvious mark of the intersection of race and gender within American history.

(Recy Taylor. Courtesy August Films)

The Anti-Rape Movement of the 70s

The 1970s welcomed grave change and discourse surrounding the harsh realities sexual assault survivors experience. It was only in 1971 that the “Bay Area Women Against Rape” was founded, and would open the nation’s first rape crisis center offering immediate victim services. This was an organization dedicated to not only providing survivors with proper counseling and advocacy, but one of the earliest educational pursuits for local communities. Within just the next five years, 400 centers would, too, be created.

In 1974, the Federal Government provided aid, for the first time in history, to the Pittsburg Action Against Rape. This would lead to the operation of over 1,000 rape crisis centers by the late 1970s.

In 1971, The New York Radical Feminist group hosted the first Speak-Out, an event where women could share their stories with one another without fear or judgment. This would inspire many other similar events, such as the Take Back the Night marches in the late 70s as pictured below.[3] TBTN events have included candlelit vigils, public rallies, survivors speak-outs and unified marches.

Boston, 1979. Photo by Spencer Grant.

The Fight for Policy Change and Laws

Despite this powerful surge of activism, it would take decades for the government to enact any legislature against sexual violence. Finally, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, “as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994[4].” Our nation’s current President, Joseph R. Biden, was one of the sponsors of the bill during his time as a Delaware Senator. He said in 1990, “the bill has three broad, but simple, goals: to make streets safer for women; to make homes safer for women; and to protect women’s civil rights.”[5]

Then Senator Joe Biden, discussing the VAWA in July 1994. Photo by John Duricka

This was a monumental moment in history, a turning point that women had spent decades advocating for–sexual violence was no longer just a personal issue, it was now a legal one.

In 2000, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Center fo Disease Control established the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and in 2001, the NSVRC organized the first Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign.

Looking Forward

Throughout just the past century, the fight against sexual violence has enacted a great deal of change, but the war is not over. Furthermore, as advocacy continues in the future, it is imperative that those who were brave enough to fight for something they believed in, against all odds, are never forgotten or lost to history.

[1] https://www.history.com/news/before-the-bus-rosa-parks-was-a-sexual-assault-investigator

[2] https://www.thelily.com/when-recy-taylor-was-gang-raped-in-1944-no-arrests-were-made-the-naacp-sent-rosa-parks-to-investigate/

[3] https://takebackthenight.org/history/

[4] https://www.legalmomentum.org/history-vawa

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/us/violence-against-women-act-reauthorization.html


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